SEO & Search Intent
Keyword research matters, but it’s not all there is to SEO.
The next big thing to look for is search intent.
If you haven’t heard about it yet, it’s a simple concept: it’s the intent of the search user who types a given term in the search field to find something.
In other words, search intent is what the user wants to find online when searching a specific keyword.
A Scientific Look at Search Intent
Search Engine Journal cites a 2006 study for search intent that categorizes user intention into two search goals: one is looking for keyword-specific information, the other is a more generic search for a given topic.
But even more recent (2018) is Google’s patent for search intent prediction in a context, where is explained that Google looks at search history (upon user permission) and other elements like “locations, user interest, times of day, etc.” to extrapolate contest for the search intent and give more prominence to results satisfying the search intent behind a query over other results.
Which means that placing search intent at the core of your ranking efforts is a wise decision that will pay off, even more than basing your strategy on search volume does.
SEO Search Intent: Why Does It Matter More Than Search Volume
While the average volume of monthly searches is essential to understanding the reach of a keyword and how difficult it may be to rank for it, the chances of ranking are slim if you’re not careful about the search intent behind that keyword.
This is not strange, since Google wants to serve users results that best respond to the intent behind their query.
For example, if you are targeting the keyword “best baby lotion” in your content, you have to understand that people run this search when they are unsure about which baby lotion to spend hard-earned money on, so they’re looking for more information before they make a purchase.
A review of the best baby lotions out there or the one best baby lotion that you tested (still a review) is what you should give them with your content, so users can make an informed decision before hitting the ‘buy’ button.
But how to see the search intent behind a keyword, in practice?
There are four methods, which I explain in the next section.
How To Find the Search Intent of A Keyword
1. Look at Page One Results for Your Target Keyword
The easiest way to find out what’s the search intent behind a keyword is to look at the results on page one of the SERPs.
See the example below for the query “seo backlinks”:
All first page results (including Google’s Featured Snippet) focus on what backlinks are and how to obtain them for SEO, so the search intent is clear: to understand backlinks and ways to get some for SEO benefits.
You can proceed in this simple way, or follow the smart process illustrated by Tory Gray, founder of The Gray Dot Company, for this method:
Look specifically for:
– Does the intention match what you expected? Will your intended page align with this? E.g. search for “what is bone broth”. Note how many of the ranking pages include information about this question AND a bone broth recipe. Not including a recipe will likely reduce your page’s chance of ranking.
– What kind of pages show up? (Long form strategic content? Products? Services pages?) Many queries are a mix – say, 15% blogs and 85% products, which means both page types can rank / people are seeking both. Compare this to your intended page. If it’s not what’s showing up, it may be the wrong keyword for you.
– Look at the People Also Ask questions. Consider answering these.
Then pull up, and put yourself in the searcher’s shoes.
– What else could they be looking for?
– How can you stand out / be better than what’s currently ranking?
The last two Tory’s questions are also helpful to use with the second method, that I illustrate below.
2. The Search User Mindset
Think about why you would search that keyword as a user.
For example, let’s consider the key term “best robot kits”.
At first glance, you would say the intent for this keyword is to look for a review of different robot kits because you want to choose one to buy (the best, based on some criteria).
And that would be a good analysis, because a quick search for page one results indeed returns that kind of results.
So that’s your search intent — you’ve found it!
Now, back to SEO: how would you make this user happy?
Having cross checked the keyword against page one of the SERPs, you know that you need to create a thorough article where you review the top five (or top ten) of the best robot kits available on the market, with all the pros and cons, so your user can make an informed decision for their purchase.
(And strive to make this content better than your competition!)
Read what Levi Olmstead, Director of Marketing at 2ndKitchen, has to say about his experience with this method:
“When I’m creating content, I consider what types of people/personas would be looking up this search query and what those people are looking to get out of their search. I put myself in that person’s shoes and consider what exactly would satisfy me if I was searching that query. Then I look at the other high-ranking articles for those keywords and aggregate all the questions being answered in those pieces with the questions I have identified in my research.”
But the user is not the only protagonist in search intent — as I briefly illustrated in the “Scientific” section, Google tries to predict search intent, so search engines have a say in all this, which brings us to the next point.
3. Think Like A Search Engine
If you were Google, what results would you serve searchers for a given query?
Google and other search engines see search queries as belonging to four different intent categories:
Example: “how to cook carbonara”
Users type in this kind of keyword when they are looking for information about something (in this case, how to do something).
Informational intent worked very well for improving conversion rates in Operator of Infinity Dish Laura Fuentes‘s experience:
“We did an experiment with search intent last year and, funnily enough, it brought us complete opposite results to what we expected. A lot of our work is offsite to bring traffic to the website. Thus far, we’d focused mainly on transcendental intent since it seemed the obvious choice for quick conversions. These mainly included product reviews and listicle style posts. However, our rate was worryingly low, coming in at less that 1% most weeks. After a quick re-strategize, we decided to experiment with a higher focus on informational intent and a strong call-to-action. Not only did our traffic on these posts skyrocket, but they proved to be more efficient for conversions. We now try to post offsite blogs a few times a week, mainly ‘How-To’ guides or technical instructions. The conversion rate for these posts are a much more impressive 3.6% We’re now considering a similar project for our onsite landing pages. Currently, they’re operating at 2.35% for sales conversion, but our aim is to hit at least 5% by the end of the year.”
Example: “Twitter terms of service”
These queries aim to retrieve specific information from specific sites.
If a user wanted to know my contact page, they would type in “example.com contact”.
Example: “buy external hd online”
For these queries, users are generally looking for purchase specific information so they can know more before they buy something.
Ian Martin, Founder and Owner of Kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com, says:
“For transactional search intent you need to focus on verbs like Buy, Get, Best X for Y, etc. Here the content language is pure ad copy writing and you are selling for when the user is ready to buy.”
Example: “star trek tng dvds”
These are queries with a buying intent. Users aren’t looking for more information about the product or service they want to buy: they want to get to the e-commerce page where to place the order!
Knowing the difference between buying terms vs. non-buying terms is vital, according to Randy Soderman, Founder of Soderman Marketing:
“Knowing the difference can mean having lifelong clients and a growing business or running a churn and burn business and barely staying afloat. Clients come to us all the time wanting to rank for non buying terms. I’ll use “window shutters” as an example. This would take a large budget and we don’t really know the searches intent. Someone searching for window shutters could be a student doing research or others that are not looking to buy the product. Now, take “buy shutters online”. With this keyphrase, we have a very good idea of the intent and the budget for ranking for this term would be far less. Lower budget with more sales is far better than higher budget and less sales.”
4. Topical Relevance to Your Goals
Last but not least, what’s the idea search intent that users would have when searching for keywords that you want to rank for? Why would they find your site with that keyword?
Building several funnels to understand how you want users to land on your page is another way to find the search intent behind a keyword.
In Ian Martin’s words:
“it is essential for any website designer to fully and totally understand how “Know,” Do” and “Go” queries relate to your business and how to create the best content to capture a page ranking for all these things which are all just steps or stages in a consumer’s purchasing cycle.And to do all this you have to think exactly as your customers are thinking as they are Googling and also how SERPs are created from the very language you use on your website. The latter point means you have to be a bit of wordsmith: a copy writer, a person who thinks they way other people think.”
Updating Old Site Content for Search Intent
It’s no joke: you can really improve the rankings of old posts if you can better hit the search intent for your content.
Read what it meant for Lance Beaudry from Avalanche Creative:
“1.We got a lead from our site because they found a tutorial on our blog helpful (validation of a good blog post).
2. We looked at this page in Google Search Console to see what keywords it gets a decent amount of impressions for, but not many clicks.
3. We researched those keywords by actually searching them ourselves and realized our blog post didn’t fulfill all possible intentions.
4. We updated the content to better fulfill those intentions.
Here’s what that did:
The screenshot shows all the clicks and impressions for that blog post in the last 3 months.
We updated the content on February 29th, and then you can see a spike in more clicks and more impressions.”
A Success Story: The SEO Power of Search Intent
This story comes from Rameez Ghayas Usmani, Digital Marketing Executive at PureVPN:
“Recently, I published a guide on Airport Sleeping Pod that provides travelers with a place where they can rest and sleep in the airport.
The blog ranked at 31st Position with few keywords right away as soon as I published it on Google. I tried to work out every reasonable method from the optimization of On-Page and Off-Page SEO to Content Marketing of my blog but didn’t get any positives.
After that, I researched keywords that my competitors were ranking on. Then I examined different keywords with high keyword volume and then incorporated those keywords in my blogs.
I was shocked to witness that the blog that stuck on the 31st position on Google climbed straight to Featured snippet immediately after I used keywords according to search intent in my blog.
Apart from the traffic gained from social shares, I saw a significant surge in organic traffic and backlinks right after my blog snatched 1st Position on Google.”
Rameez kindly sent me screenshots of the charts showing how his rankings boosted thanks to including search intent into his strategy:
Impact on Backlinks:
And on Traffic:
Reworking your keyword strategy to include search intent is a guarantee of success in Google and other search engines.
And it makes users happier, because they land on content they’re actually looking for (which is what success in this industry looks like, isn’t it?).
By Luana Spinetti, enthusiastic B2B Copywriter and Consultant for the Marketing and Tech industry for 10+ years. Also a Cartoonist for hire since 2004.